With permit in hand, the Nortons venture off the beaten track into the APY lands . . .
Mark’s father was a Master Builder working for TAFE SA in the early 80’s, and spent considerable time in South Australia’s northern outposts, helping to teach the local men building skills to assist in repairing and constructing infrastructure within the indigenous communities. Mark and his brother often tagged along on some of these trips, keeping them out of their mothers hair over the school holidays and giving them a taste of the outback. Mark has fond and vivid memories of long days spent hanging out with the indigenous kids from towns like Oodnadatta, and from within the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, at communities such as Mimili and Amata. He was hoping to get the opportunity to revisit them as we ventured in that direction.
As a permit is required to enter these areas, we applied with a guesstimate on dates we would be there, but were not sure we would get approval, based on one of us simply having spent time there over 30 years prior, as permits are generally not approved for tourists or transit. We were surprised to receive news our permits had been approved for a small window of time and with strict instructions as to where we could travel and which location we could camp in, so we hot-footed it from Coober Pedy to make the window while we had the chance. It was however, a little odd to be entering the lands without any real contacts to meet up with or give us direction, and we certainly didn’t want to impose on anyone’s lives by driving around like swivel-neck tourists. The long red dirt road into the Lands is admittedly a little imposing – littered frequently along the sides with rusting out vehicles, any reusable components stripped from the bodies long ago. We followed a couple of small hand written signs that directed us to the campground, some 10km out of town, rolling in to a wide clear space nestled aside a range of russet rocky hills, our jaws at our feet at the beauty of it all.
We spent the first couple of days hanging out in camp, enjoying the absolute serenity and solitude of our location. We hiked up the dry creek bed, climbed high onto the ranges and marvelled at the landscape that spread out in front of us. Caspar’s face made me laugh, when he identified wild camels moving in the distance – and large tracks in the dirt road revealed the presence of a very big lizard of sorts nearby. Eventually we were joined by a group of school teachers one evening, who had travelled out from town to share a fire and cook some kangaroo tail in the hot coals for visiting family members, and we used that as an chance to connect with the town – asking if our kids could come into school on the following morning for a visit.
The fact is, we live in a pretty standard monoculture of white European heritage back home in Adelaide, so introducing our kids to a wider spectrum of cultures, particularly those of Australia’s traditional inhabitants, felt important. The classroom was much like any other around this country you could imagine, and in no time the kids were welcomed, playing and learning with the locals their own age. Of course, there were obvious differences in privilege our kids have enjoyed, and being able to see and understand that difference is also important for all of us.
The Art Centre in Mimili was also on my must-do list, and it was an absolute pleasure to be allowed in to see the work these artists are producing. World-class quality canvases of brilliant colour and exquisitly graphic designs depicting stories of Country and culture made me drool. Whilst the top-shelf stuff was out of our price range, and was earmarked for big-name galleries across the country, we were still able to purchase some gorgeously stunning depictions from the areas up and coming artists, to remember our visit.
Spending the day within the town allowed Mark opportunity to reflect on his time there as a child, and it felt to him that social issues such as addiction had considerably improved. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many men of his age around the place to attempt to connect with, and particularly none of the older generation who may have worked with his father. I won’t imply that I have a deep understanding of the complex issues that face the Aboriginal population, however this was a barb of truth about the negative impact European settlement has had on health and longevity around here.
Our trip so far has inspired me to delve further into understanding the cultural history our country, both before and after European settlement. The brief and sanitised version we learn at school certainly leaves many gaps and I feel responsible to my children, and to all the people that came before us, to seek the truth and reality. We left the APY lands via the northern roads, getting a glimpse of Mount Woodforde as we went, South Australia’s highest peak. Crossing over into the Northern territory we were looking forward to seeing the great red centre of Australia and the iconic monolith that stars as its centrepiece, Uluru. But not without having to pay $2.17 a litre for diesel! PHWOAR!
A Fanatical Sabbatical
‘Mark, Kim and the kids are leaving behind their home in the Adelaide Hills to jaunt around the country side while they manage their arborist business remotely. Normally enrolled in ‘bush school’, they thought they could push the kids outdoor eduction experience a little further by living outside for a year.
And follow them on Facebook @AFanaticalSabbatical